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Rice Business Plan Competition goes virtual

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The coronavirus lockdown caused the cancellation of the Rice Business Plan Competition in March, but the fabled event that has student startups vying for big money has been reborn as a virtual contest.

The event will be held online June 17-19, with two of the days open to the public. Sponsored by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, it will feature 42 student-led teams from universities across the country as they compete for millions in cash prices.

The teams pitch their nascent businesses to venture capitalists, investors and other judges, getting their message in front of tech leaders who can help them in the future. Many come away with investments in their businesses as well.

IN 2019: Rice Business Plan Competition awards total of $2.9 million to student startups

Of the teams competing, only three are from Texas universities: Rice, Texas State University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

June 17, the first day of the event, features 60-second “elevator pitches” from the 42 teams, and it’s open to the public. The first round of full pitches happens on June 18, but that is open to teams and judges only. The finals, when the remaining seven teams pitch to judges on June 19, are open to the public.

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The amount available for cash prizes has not been locked down, but the 2019 competition awarded winning startups $2.9 million.

Registration for the public events are free, and will begin in early June at the Rice Business Alliance website. This is the 20th year for the competition.

dwight.silverman@chron.com

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BrokerTeam Group expands network with two new brokerages

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BrokerTeam Group expands network with two new brokerages

BrokerTeam Group (BTG) is establishing two new insurance brokerages, further expanding its growing independent insurance broker network.

The insurance brokerage management company will help establish both BrokerZone Insurance in Mississauga, and BrokerUnion Insurance in Pickering within the fourth quarter of 2020. Once established, BTG’s total brokerage network will have 12 brokerages.

BrokerUnion Insurance previously operated as a Desjardins Financial Security office, but it converted into an RIBO-licensed brokerage earlier this month.

As brokerages, BrokerZone and BrokerUnion will offer property and casualty insurance, as well as life insurance in Ontario. BrokerUnion also has plans to expand into other provinces, a company release said.

BTG will provide BrokerZone Insurance and BrokerUnion Insurance with insurer contracts and mentorship to kickstart their business and premium growth. BTG CEO Royle Leung will serve as the principal broker for both brokerages, until Vladimir Latinovic of BrokerZone Insurance and Muqit Aziz of BrokerUnion Insurance obtain their respective principal broker licenses.

“Currently, there are many hurdles for brokers to start their own brokerage through traditional means,” said Leung. “BrokerTeam Group makes it an achievable opportunity with our established relationships with insurers and pool of industry experience. Our ultimate goal is to open up doors for talent so they can develop into leaders within the industry.”

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TikTok’s Internal Estimates Show Even A Temporary Ban Would Cripple Its Entire Business Within Months

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A U.S. ban would shatter TikTok’s business around the world even if the restrictions were later lifted, the company says in a newly filed court document.

A ban that stopped TikTok from operating in the States and lasted two months would reduce the number of Americans using TikTok each day by 40% to 50%, according to the document. Those figures worsen to a 80% to 90% drop in daily active users if the ban went six months, a move that would, essentially, deliver a fatal blow to TikTok’s presence in America.

The ramifications stretch beyond the States. TikTok says American-made content accounts for as much as 60% of the videos consumed by users outside the U.S. It is hard to imagine the company being able to maintain—let alone grow—its audience beyond America with such a drastic reduction in content, particularly since nearly all its popular stars come from the U.S.

TikTok’s status remains in limbo. ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, appeared to have a deal struck with Oracle
ORCL
and Walmart
WMT
that President Trump had approved, but it’s unclear whether all the sides involved in the deal are on the same page and whether the Chinese government would sign off on it. It faces a pressing deadline: Starting on Sunday, a Trump-issued executive order will ban new downloads of TikTok, though the app will still be able to operate. TikTok asked a U.S. judge for an injunction on Wednesday, hoping to stave off that fate. Another executive order would entirely turn off TikTok’s U.S. presence starting Nov. 12.

TikTok says it has 100 million monthly active users in America, and based on how other social media networks work, probably at least half of those people use TikTok each day. The company hasn’t released comparable figures about worldwide usage.

A few other interesting facts from the new court document:

  • TikTok has experienced exceptionally rapid growth. In August 2018, it had 14.6 million monthly active users in the U.S. By February 2019, it had 26.7 million and by last October, roughly 40 million.
  • TikTok says it had 54.8 million “global active users” in January 2018, a figure that had ballooned to 689.2 million in July 2020. (A note: It’s not clear how TikTok is defining a “global active user,” and the company didn’t use the industry standard measures of daily active users or monthly active users—terms, respectively, for people who used the app at least once a day or once a month.)
  • Until talk about a U.S. ban first began in July, TikTok was adding 424,000 new daily users every day.
  • TikTok revenue dropped $10 million last month as advertisers pulled back on spending amid questions about the app’s future.

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Posthaste: What businesses want to hear in the throne speech

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Businesses of every size and across every sector want the federal government to offer their industry some benefits, subsidies and support — or all three — in the throne speech delivered by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at around 2 p.m. ET as coronavirus persists and economic recovery stalls.

Many will likely be disappointed.

Here’s a selected list of demands, request and call for action by various business bodies.

The Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses is calling on the federal government to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program at the full 75 per cent rate for businesses facing an ongoing revenue decline of 50 per cent or higher and extend the program until 2021.

CEWS is going to be gradually phased out starting in two weeks and is slated to be eliminated entirely in December. The move could save 775,000 jobs in Ontario alone, they claim.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses’s members have outlined the following priorities:

  • 74 per cent of CFIB members would like to see discussions around creating a more competitive tax environment
  • 65 per cent would like to see the government control spending
  • 53 per cent would see reduced red tape

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce would like to hear more about the government’s efforts to bring women back into the workforce. They have a 10-point plan, but here are some of their key calls for actions:

  • Establish a National Secretariat for Childcare, which includes business and parent representatives, to consider and develop recommendations for tax incentives that benefit parents, guardians and daycare owners
  • Provide emergency support for childcare costs by extending eligibility for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy to include hiring in-home childcare so business owners can return to work
  • Address the tax code to support women-owned businesses. For example, allow business owners to claim childcare as a business expense
  • Prioritize funding and programming that supports women’s access to traditionally male-dominated jobs and sectors where there is high growth potential, such as the trades, IT and manufacturing.

A working group arranged by C.D. Howe Institute believes the Liberals must curb their spending spree, noting that no new major ongoing and unfunded spending programs should be introduced without matching broad-based tax increases.

“Immediate focus should be on targeted spending that promotes growth and raises tax revenues. Examples include incentivizing a return to work such as investments in daycare to cope with the problem of parents leaving the workforce, investments in amortized federal capital infrastructure to provide a boost to the economy, or a return to pre-COVID economic immigration levels,” the group said.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers wants Ottawa to offer the oil and gas sector accelerated depreciation of capital. That includes introducing 100-per-cent immediate deductibility for oil and natural gas capital investments, including clean technology and emission.

It also wants the government to reinstate the Atlantic Investment Tax Credit (AITC) at 15 per cent in short term, moving to 10 per cent in the long term.

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